AFL ties with McDonalds all wrong, says Deakin health expert

Associate Professor Felice Jacka

A DEAKIN University academic has warned obesity is not the only health issue at play in the AFL’s decision to partner with McDonalds.

Associate Professor Felice Jacka said unhealthy diets have been linked to poor mental health, particularly depression — another reason for being “underwhelmed” at the AFL’s new sponsorship deal with McDonalds.

“A lot has been written about the impact of unhealthy dietary habits on health. We know that ‘Western’ diets containing higher amounts of added sugars and saturated and processed fats significantly increase the risk for a host of common diseases, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and many forms of cancer,” Associate Professor Jacka said.

 “Mental disorders are responsible for the leading cause of disability worldwide. Improving access to services and current treatments for depression have not noticeably improved this thus far and there is even some evidence to suggest that mental health problems are getting more common, particularly in young people.”

Associate Professor Felice Jacka, a principal research fellow with Deakin’s IMPACT Strategic Research Centre, has led the field of research focused on the role of diet in mental health.

She president of both the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research and the Australian Alliance for the Prevention of Mental Disorders.

“The extensive evidence from research carried out in many different countries now points to a healthy diet being very important to protect against depression, and this also holds true for adolescents and even very young children,” she said.

“This is a critical understanding as half of all mental disorders begin before the age of 14 years and they often become chronic, lifetime conditions once they do manifest.

“If we are going to begin to address the massive burden that mental illness imposes by focusing on preventing it occurring in the first place – and this is clearly the most cost-effective way of going about things – we need to be identifying and changing the environmental risk factors that are modifiable. Diet is one such risk factor.

“There have been enormous and detrimental changes to dietary habits across the world; however, governments have shown little appetite for addressing the factors that drive unhealthy food consumption – marketing, cost and availability.

“As such, we need to focus on grass roots efforts to improve the way people eat. A key part of this is setting good examples early.

“The AFL and their players are enormously important role models to young people. To have them and the sport sponsored by McDonalds sends all the wrong messages.”

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